My long ride with an American refugee

The definition of refugee is “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.” Substitute “city” for “country” and “man-made” for “natural” … and meet Terry.

I picked up Terry after he had just finished working a bruising 12-hour shift as a dump truck driver. He was Lyfting this day because his day started (at 4:30 a.m.) when he discovered, as he was about to leave for work, that his car had a flat tire. A surprise flat tire sucks … but not nearly as much as having to heat a case of water, bottle by bottle, just to take a bath.

Terry moved to Phoenix earlier this year from Flint, Michigan. “That city where the water’s all f—ed up,” he told me. Being the inquisitive type, and since our ride was going to take about 30 minutes, I asked him to tell me more about what it had been like living in a city where the entire treatment system had collapsed, rendering the water unsafe.

It not only “sucked” as much as any person simply reading about it could imagine, but it literally drove him from his home. After months of trying to deal with the slow-moving crisis, Terry finally packed up his family and moved to Arizona “to start over,” he told me.

It wasn’t a decision he made lightly. He owned his home in Flint, and repairing just the pipes in his own house would have run more than $20,000, he said — on a house that was rapidly losing value in a town where all the houses were facing similar problems. flint.jpg

Terry has two young daughters, and he couldn’t imagine putting them through more of the hell they were living through without safe water, so he walked away, letting the house fall into foreclosure. I can’t say I blame him.

While telling his story, he paused to show me this photo on his phone. It’s the washing machine in his house filled with the fine brown water that was coming out of his pipes.

He originally shared the photo on Facebook, where “it kind of went viral,” he said. The next thing he knew he was getting called for an interview by CNN. He never did do the interview, because back in Michigan he had been driving long-haul trucking routes and was on the road a lot. But CNN did use his photo in one of their reports, he said.

Terry said moving away was the right decision. He saw the situation wasn’t going to get any better, and thought about his kids.

“Not on my watch,” he said to himself.

In Phoenix Terry found a good job quickly, and said he’s looking forward to raising his family in a place where there are so many more options for his kids than back in Flint. He wants to get his daughters into gymnastics, and already has them in a school that’s teaching them a second language at the elementary level.

Terry probably doesn’t think of himself as an an American refugee. But in a way he is, and he made the best of a terrible situation.

I respect that. I’m glad I met him. And I wish him, and his family, all the best as they settle into their new city.


PS – If after reading, you’re inspired to give Lyft driving a try, make sure to use a driver referral bonus when you first fill out the applicationUse code MIKE17396 and we will both enjoy a bonus for rides you give during your first month. (You don’t need to drive in Phoenix for the code to work.)